Two White House officials played role in giving Nunes intel reports

Stephen Colbert took aim at Republican U.S. Representative Devin Nunes Wednesday night, criticizing the House Intelligence Committee chairman in charge of the "alleged investigation into the alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russian Federation".

Asked about the New York Times report at his daily briefing, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer would only say that classified material would be reviewed by the relevant committee members.

The newspaper named the individuals who provided Nunes with the information as Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the senior director for intelligence at the National Security Council, and Michael Ellis, a lawyer at the White House Counsel's Office.

Spicer added during the Thursday briefing that he does not know who cleared Nunes into the White House.

Schiff confirmed that he has been invited to view materials related to the alleged incidental surveillance of Trump and associates.

Spicer said that the White House would make the information available to any member of the House or Senate Intelligence Committee.

The GOP chairman was shown the information while on White House grounds before he returned there last week to brief Trump about the information.

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Stephen Slick, a former CIA and NSC official, said it would be "highly unusual and likely unprecedented" for a member of Congress to travel to the White House to view intelligence reports "without prior authorization". White House staff would have such an interest.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said in an interview that aired Thursday that Nunes had told him his source for the information was a "whistle-blower type person". "And I do think that the White House has a lot of questions to answer".

Nunes and Schiff met Thursday after a week's worth of canceled hearings and bickering between the committee leaders, as their investigation turned partisan following a decision by Nunes, a Republican, to go to the press and White House with intelligence before alerting the committee.

Cohen-Watnick is a former Defence Intelligence Agency official who was originally brought to the White House by Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser.

"There's a belief that the President has maintained that there was surveillance that occurred during the 2016 election that was improper and that we want people to look into this and to take the legal, responsible steps to both understand it and then address it", Spicer said.

Nunes delivered the letter to the top Democrat on the investigation, Rep. Adam Schiff, but Schiff refused to sign the invite, saying he wanted to hold the public hearing they agreed on, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The committee's work has been deeply, and perhaps irreparably, undermined by Nunes' apparent coordination with the White House.

  • Sonia Alvarado